Dave Ernst’s heavy business travel schedule throughout his career enabled him to earn significant airline mileage perks for frequently flying out of Cedar Rapids — often logging more than 100 flight segments a year. But when the pandemic grounded business travel, he reevaluated his priorities and set his sights back on his Iowa roots. 


In August, the Tippie College of Business at the University of Iowa announced it had selected Ernst as the executive director of strategic partnerships, to lead the new Office of Strategic Partnerships. The office was created to develop, expand and strengthen connections between Iowa businesses and nonprofits and the business college’s resources.  


Amy Kristof-Brown, who was named dean of the Tippie College just over a year ago after filling the role on an interim basis since March 2020, this fall told the Business Record that her No. 1 priority will be increasing strategic partnerships with Iowa businesses. 


“We have a lot of talented students and talented faculty, and we’ve spent the last several years building that capacity through innovative curricula, through hiring really outstanding thought leaders in different areas,” Kristof-Brown said in a September interview. “And what we’re hoping to do now is really expand our outreach to the state, to the region to let [organizations] know what we have to offer, and ways that we can be helpful to businesses, whether those are small, medium, large corporations, whether it’s nonprofits, community organizations, state agencies, whatever it might be.” 


Ernst has a broad array of experiences to draw from in the new role. He most recently was senior vice president of state services and business development for Cognia, a Georgia-based developer of assessment tests. He also has worked for 12 years in numerous capacities for educational publisher Pearson in Iowa City, including regional vice president and director of the company’s research and innovation network. He began his career with Rockwell Collins in Cedar Rapids.


What about this new position specifically appealed to you? 

In my career I’ve done a lot of different things, and I’ve had an opportunity to be part of three startup ventures — one at Collins and two at Pearson. So that entrepreneur side of me found this opportunity really, really exciting. It combined sort of the startup feel of a new role, but also having held senior leadership positions in strategic partnerships … I have that passion to grow the enterprise and to create these successful partnerships. I see this as a really great opportunity to bring that all together in a capstone sort of way in my career. 

Reconnecting with the university after earning degrees at two different times there, what are your overall impressions about how the university has changed? 

I think at the college of business, we have a real entrepreneurial mindset, and we’re doing many amazing new things. Our dean is fairly new in her role, and she has some ideas about what she would like to accomplish on behalf of the college of business. So there’s a real sense of partnership and innovation in the things that we want to do. I think we want to enable the business community to access our talents in ways that maybe we haven’t been able to do in the past, to really make our research talent and our expert faculty available to the business community. … I think the challenge is that we have many relationships between faculty and staff and the corporate world, so we don’t want to interrupt those relationships [but deepen and foster them]. 

What advice or wisdom have you picked up that has really stuck with you during your career? 

I think I’ve been fortunate to have great mentors in my career. And one mentor said this about leadership: “Learn something new every day, make a difference and have some fun.” And so I try to follow that advice. Learning something new every day is exciting and invigorating. Making a difference in what you do, you’re adding to your customers’ success, your company’s success, and having fun. [As professionals] we spend a lot of time with each other so we’ve got to have some fun. Another one I’ve taken from another CEO that I worked for, and I always use it when we’re starting ventures: “It’s difficult to make complicated things simple, but it’s usually well worth it.” Sometimes we try to boil the ocean, we make it too big. So one of the things that I work on is, how do we make complicated things simple? And I guess the last thing about me and who I am is, I think people are the secret sauce in life. And so I tried to speak in ways that others like to listen to what I have to say. And I like to listen in such a way that others love to speak to me. So I want to create that sort of dialogue, that trust that I think goes in any relationship.

What hobbies do you enjoy? 

Well, my most recent hobby is becoming an expert chain saw person. Cleaning up after the [2020] derecho, we had quite a cleanup effort in our community. It probably took a good six months to clean up after the derecho, and even in the spring we were finalizing that. But I very much love the outdoors. So you’ll find me in the summertime up at Lake Okoboji. My wife’s family had been going up there for years, so we’ve made that our summer place for our family to come back and be together. I also boat and ski when I’m up there, and in the winter I go to Colorado to go skiing every year. In the spring I like to go to Canada and go fishing with my dad and my brothers. ν

To read more about the goals and work of the University of Iowa Tippie College Office of Strategic Partnerships, see this related story.